VLT spectropolarimetry of comet 67P: Dust environment around the end of its intense Southern summer

Yuna G Kwon*, Stefano Bagnulo, Johannes Markkanen, Jessica Agarwal, Kolokolova Ludmilla, Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd, Colin Snodgrass, Gian P. Tozzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Context. A cornucopia of Rosetta and ground-based observational data sheds light on the evolution of the characteristics of dust particles from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (hereafter 67P) with seasons, implying the different dust environments in the source regions on the surface of the comet.
Aims. We aim to constrain the properties of the dust particles of 67P and therefrom diagnose the dust environment of its coma and near-surface layer at around the end of the Southern summer of the comet. Methods. We performed spectropolarimetric observations for 67P dust over 4,000–9,000 Å using the ESO/Very Large Telescope in January–March 2016 (phase angle ranging ∼26◦–5◦). We examined the optical behaviours of the dust, which, together with Rosetta colour data, were used to search for dust evolution with cometocentric distance. Modelling was also conducted to identify the dust attributes compatible with the results. Results. The spectral dependence of the polarisation degree of 67P dust is flatter than found in other dynamical groups of comets in
similar observing geometry. The depth of its negative polarisation branch appears to be a bit shallower than in long-period comets and might be getting shallower as 67P repeats its apparitions. Its dust colour shows a change in slope around 5,500 Å, (17.3 ± 1.4) and (10.9 ± 0.6) % (1,000 Å)−1 for shortward and longward of the wavelength, respectively, which are slightly redder but broadly
consistent with the average of Jupiter-Family comets.
Conclusions. Observations of 67P dust in this study can be attributed to dust agglomerates of ∼100 μm in size detected by Rosetta in early 2016. A porosity of 60%shows the best match with our polarimetric results, yielding a dust density of ∼770 kg m−3. Compilation of Rosetta and our data indicates the dust’s reddening with increasing nucleus distance, which may be driven by water-ice sublimation as the dust moves out of the nucleus. We estimate the possible volume fraction of water ice in the initially ejected dust as ∼6 % (i.e.
the refractory-to-ice volume ratio of ∼14).
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA40
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Early online date24 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Comets: general
  • Comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
  • Methods: numerical
  • Methods: observational
  • Techniques: polarimetric
  • Techniques: spectroscopic


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